Buck­ets and spades of nos­tal­gia

Mel­bourne’s St Kilda is full of hol­i­day charm

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

MY child­hood hol­i­days in Eng­land were spent at Brighton Beach. Year af­ter year, we stayed at the same board­ing house, even seated for fish-and-chips sup­pers by the per­ma­nently aproned host­ess Mrs Brown at our ‘‘usual’’ ta­ble by a bay win­dow with a view of the prom­e­nade and the pier.

There were deckchairs for hire, striped canes of teethcrack­ing Brighton Rock and Punch and Judy shows. What nos­tal­gia, then, to dis­cover the Mel­bourne sub­urb of St Kilda, just 6km south­east of the city, has a long es­planade, a her­itage pier and a real sea­side char­ac­ter, al­beit shiny and so­phis­ti­cated these days, with chic cafes, shops and lodg­ings.

On a re­cent week­end, I stay at Novo­tel Mel­bourne St Kilda in a spa­cious top-floor room with a wide view of Port Phillip Bay. This ho­tel marks its 20th birthday this year and stands on the site of the invit­ingly named Wat­tle Path Dance Saloon & Cafe, which opened in 1923.

It proves an ex­cel­lent base, within easy strik­ing dis­tance of at­trac­tions such as the shops of Acland and Fitzroy street and Luna Park, which cel­e­brates its 100th birthday this year. As I head to­wards Acland Street, I hear kids squeal­ing with joy from the ferris wheel and the scenic rail­way. Later a lo­cal tells me the ghost train is still the all-time Luna Park favourite; how re­as­sur­ing that some things just don’t change.

It turns out to be a bustling week­end with brisk winds charg­ing in off the bay and far too much good food, es­pe­cially at Circa, The Prince af­ter one or two sig­na­ture cock­tails in the ad­join­ing bar (No 8 comes with such clever things as Viet­namese mint, clar­i­fied le­mon juice and lime mar­malade).

There’s live mu­sic and mar­vel­lous piz­zas at Repub­lica in the Sea Baths com­plex, and who wouldn’t want to front up again next morn­ing to its court­yard for french toast with raisin brioche, maple syrup and poached fig ice cream. Break­fast is a treat, too, in retro milk bar style at Cow­deroy’s Dairy in St Kilda West.

Along Acland Street, well-known for its Euro­peanstyle cake shops, do not miss the plum sponge, pop­py­seed slice and flashback at­mos­phere at Monarch Cakes, with its jolly claim of ‘‘ex­quis­ite since 1934’’. The Es­planade Ho­tel (known here­abouts as the Espy) has been go­ing since 1878 and is famed as a live per­for­mance venue, with the likes of Paul Kelly and John Farn­ham on stage over the years, and stand-up comics such as Dave Hughes and Rove McManus. The SBS One mu­sic trivia show RocK­wiz is filmed in the ho­tel’s Gersh­win Room, and St Kilda streets and apart­ment blocks (as well as the 1970s bowl­ing club) were back­drops for the tele­vi­sion se­ries The Se­cret Life of Us.

The St Kilda Es­planade Mar­ket has been in busi­ness on Sun­day morn­ings since 1970 and there are about 150 stalls strung in a con­vivial line, with crafted goods rang­ing from pup­pets and soaps to retro Hawai­ian-print cush­ions and cloth­ing.

Be­low, on the Lower Es­planade, is the loom­ing 1927-built Palais The­atre, where up­com­ing head­lin­ers in­clude (retro alert) the Vil­lage Peo­ple in Novem­ber.

There is lots more to do next visit, in­clud­ing an Ital­ian feast at Cafe di Sta­sio, per­haps a dip in the warmed sea baths and lunch at St Kilda Pier Kiosk, re­built in 2006 af­ter a fire, but a fine replica of the orig­i­nal. I reckon from the end of the pier, if I squint, St Kilda, with its hol­i­day charm and cir­cling seag­ulls, could be look­ing more and more like Brighton Beach. Su­san Kuro­sawa was a guest of St Kilda Tourism As­so­ci­a­tion.

Mel­bourne’s St Kilda Pier and pavilion-style kiosk

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